Republican leaders in either chamber of Michigan’s state legislature, both of which have GOP majorities, have yet to indicate whether they intend to investigate expenditures made by an election-related nonprofit that was founded by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D).
The Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration (MCELA), as The Michigan Star has reported, received a $12 million grant in September 2020 from a national nonprofit, the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR). The latter, which is funded significantly by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, provided the grant to MCELA ostensibly to aid “nonpartisan voter education” about how to request and utilize mail-in ballots.
Benson helped establish MCELA in 2008. The following year, when the stalwart Democrat launched her first run for secretary of state, she removed herself as leader of MCELA, but she would later serve as the entity’s president from 2011 through at least February 2020, according to reports filed by the nonprofit. She thus remained head of the organization through her second run for secretary of state in 2018.
All of which raises concern about a possible conflict of interest, insofar as MCELA’s Form 990 tax document from the year 2020 shows that $11.8 million out of the $12 million provided to MCELA by CEIR was paid to two Democrat-aligned media firms. No line-item specifics have been provided by either MCELA or those firms —D.C.-based Waterfront Strategies and Grosse Pointe, Michigan-based Alper Strategies — about how that money was spent, though officials of the nonprofit indicated to the press that there would be budgeting for mailings and advertising “to engage voters.”
Waterfront is a subsidiary of GMMB, the largest Democratic campaign consultancy in America. Alper Strategies was founded by Jill Alper, the erstwhile political director of the Democratic National Committee. Hiring such partisan media strategists belies the goal of “nonpartisan voter education” that MCELA identifies as its purpose on the group’s latest annual report.
Emails The Star sent to the state’s Republican legislative leaders about whether they anticipate holding hearings to ascertain how precisely the MCELA’s grant money was spent and exactly what was done with those funds were not answered yesterday. The chairs of the state House and Senate’s respective election committees and oversight committees also could not be reached for comment.
Contributions made by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to CEIR and another group called the Center for Technology and Civic Life for so-called voter-education grants altogether amounted to $419 million during the 2020 election cycle. The donations have been controversial for aiding state and local governments’ performance of election-related duties in ways advantageous to Democrats.
CEIR funds went to state-level agencies, mostly secretary of state offices, including $13 million to Pennsylvania, $5.6 million to Georgia, and $4 million to Arizona. The $12.04 million that went to operations in Michigan was unique insofar as it went to a nonprofit instead of a public agency.
Benson is far from the only Democratic partisan to have been affiliated with MCELA. Its President Jen McKernan, Treasurer Ned Staebler, and Secretary Kimberly Trent, for instance, have all donated to Democratic candidates or committees.
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